Perhaps you were rather astonished when I told you briefly
that I intended to go home for a while, and that I should write
you from here. But first I have to thank you for your letter of
December 1, which I just now received here at Nuenen.
One must try to conquer such a thing, and I felt it would get
worse if I did not get a change.
So for several reasons I made up my mind to go home for a
while. A thing which, however, I was very loath to do.
My journey began with a good six-hour walk across the heath -
to Hoogeveen. On a stormy afternoon in rain and snow.
That walk cheered me greatly, or rather my feelings were so in
sympathy with nature that it calmed me more than anything. I
thought that perhaps my going back home might give me a clearer
insight into questions of how to act.
Drenthe is splendid, but one's being able to stay there
depends on many things, depends on whether one is able to stand
the loneliness. I believe Father would consider that question
settled by a conclusion drawn from an ordinary conversation,
but for my part I am in no hurry to decide it, and, for
instance, I want to see what I think of it after having been
here about a week or so. But for the present I am quite in the
dark as to how to act in that respect.
One by no means arrives at a satisfactory conclusion by
thinking or speaking about the question, that's what I see more
and more. At one moment it seems more possible than at
And I for my part do not drop problems suddenly, but keep
turning them over in my mind, sometimes long after other people
consider them settled. But, boy, it is so difficult for me, it
becomes so much a matter of conscience that I should be too
great a burden to you, that I should perhaps abuse your
friendship when I accept money for an enterprise which perhaps
will not pay.
You write again about Moniteur Universel.
Do you think my opinion too pessimistic when I declare it
possible that within relatively few years a number of
great art enterprises, like the Moniteur Universel for instance
- and others still more overexpanded - will dwindle down - will
fall into decadence as quickly as they came up? All art
business that remained in touch with real art began to flourish
within a relatively few years. But it became too much a money
speculation, and is so even now - I do not say quite - I
simply say too much so; and being a speculation, why
shouldn't it go, as with the bulb trade? You will say that a
picture is no tulip. Of course there is the widest difference,
and of course I who love pictures, and tulips not at
all, am perfectly well aware of this.
But I am sure that many rich people who buy expensive
pictures, for some reason or other, do not do so because of the
art value they find in them - the difference which you and I
see between a tulip and a picture is invisible to such people.
They, the speculators and “pochards blasés”
and many others, would buy tulips now just as before - if only
it were fashionable.
There are real, serious connoisseurs, yes, but it is perhaps
only a tenth of all the business that is transacted, perhaps
even a much smaller part of it, of which it can be said that it
was really done for the love of art. Of course I could go on
enlarging on this theme forever, but without insisting on it
further, I think you will agree with me that in the art-dealing
business there is much that in the future might prove to be
The price of pictures, now raised enormously, may go down. If
you ask me, Can Millet and Corot go down? I say, In price,
From an artistic point of view of course, Millet is Millet,
Corot, Corot, fixed like the sun itself - in my opinion at
Five years ago I thought differently, I thought that, for
instance, Millet would remain stable even in price; but
since then - just because I see how generally Millet is
completely misunderstood since he has become less obscure and
more widely reproduced, for instance, than when he was ignored
- I have feared he will never be appreciated by the public at
large, and - it is not sure that those who understand him best
will have to pay so much money for his pictures later on as
they must now. Rembrandt's work also went down in price
during the periwig-and-pigtail period.
I should like to ask you frankly, Do you believe that the
present prices will hold? I tell you frankly, I do
not think so.
But at the same time, for me Millet is Millet, Rembrandt
is Rembrandt, Israëls is Israëls, etc., whether their
pictures cost twopence or a hundred thousand guilders.
Consequently, I do not give much thought to the art-dealing
business. I do so only when I think of you, and when I want to
ask you if you really can like it, if you will not see,
especially later on, many things that are too distasteful for
you to stand. You will say, “One gets used to
everything”; or rather you will say, “We must live
on until our hearts break within us.” Maybe so, I agree
with you in this - but if our hearts needs must break within
us, we are still free to act in one way or another. And as to
you or me, we are what we are, and as we have enthusiasm for
art within us, we should, each in his own way, stick to our
opinion about Millet, for instance, even if the most absurd
But I ask you, In case of a gradual decline in the enormous
prices for pictures, how can the great houses make up for it,
which yearly spend formidable sums on advances, etc., which
have to be deducted from their profit - they will soon have to
be contented with great deficits. Such trees do not fall at the
first stroke, but they can molder away inside and fall at last,
without one stroke of the axe, only by the wind; when? I have
no idea of the exact date.
just write me on this question in general, for instance, what
you think of the stability - in the long run - of an
establishment such as you say Moniteur Universel is - or Petit
- or Arnold & Tripp. I tell you frankly, I do not see how
they can keep it up in the long run. I think such things must
I think it must be rather uncomfortable to assist at such a
thing - I prefer to sit and paint by a peat fire.
Then one feels only a certain “qu'est ce que ca me
fait” [what do I care] for the whole art-dealing business
- except - except - that I personally think it very unpleasant
to be too short of money.
You always remained your own calm self in Paris, very simple,
and certainly cooler than a man like Tripp, for instance.
You care to see things only as they are; you, as well as I,
cannot help analyzing. And yet even you do not
use your knowledge of a situation primarily to profit by it in
spite of difficulties.
I mean, fishing in troubled water is not in your
But I ask you frankly, how is it? do you really believe
Moniteur Universel will ask anything else of its employees than
G. & Co. does ? Moniteur, G. & Co., Tripp, Petit - they
are all alike to me. I myself believe that having been thrown
out of one, I should be thrown out of all. If old Mr. Goupil
says, You are not the man for us, I believe other managers
would think the same.
Now as for you, I think what is happening to you at Goupil's
would happen to you in any other firm - and setting up in
business for oneself at a time when a cooling off and decline
in the market is to be expected is something which in my
opinion one would not undertake enthusiastically.
Do you have confidence in the present times, do you believe
trade will remain at this high pitch?
If you believed it, I should respect your opinion and hold my
tongue, but I do not know if you are aware that I do not
exactly believe that the very big business will prove
Do write me about this, then it will be so much easier for me
to speak about it. I feel a little embarrassed with you just
now, and I want you to know my possibly nervous opinion that,
in the first place, I do not believe those inflated affairs
will last, and in the second place, though they might last, I
should not like to take part in them either directly or
Another question is, If I can provide for myself by doing
anything here or there, I will not look such a gift horse in
If it proves to be my duty to do something or other, very
well, I will not refuse the work, even unpleasant work.
I thought of you, brother, during that long walk across the
heath, in the evening, in the storm. I thought of a passage, I
don't know from what book: “Deux yeux éclaircies
par de vraies larmes veillaient;” [two eyes were awake,
brightened by genuine tears]. I thought, I am
disillusioned. I thought, I have believed in many
things which I now know are really sorry fallacies - I thought,
Those eyes of mine, here on this gloomy evening, wide awake in
this deserted region - if they have been full of tears at
times, why shouldn't these have been wrung from me by a sorrow
that disenchants - yes - and disturbs illusions - but at the
same time - makes one wide awake.
I thought, It's impossible that Theo is satisfied with
many things that worry me?
Is it possible that it is only my own melancholy when I cannot
enjoy some things as I used to do?
In short, I thought, Is it possible that I take gold for
tinsel? Do I call withered a thing that is in full bloom? I
could not find an answer, can you? Are you sure that there
isn't a far-advanced, inexorable decadence everywhere? Give me
courage, if you have courage yourself, but I ask you in my
turn, “Do not flatter me.”
As to myself, I declare I believe that even if I became very
clever (which I am not as yet) I believe - firmly believe -
that I shall always be very poor, that it will be more than I
expect if I succeed in keeping out of debt.
Those who are the coming men in Holland now, the
mastodons, Mesdag, Israëls, Blommers, Maris, and so on,
will under no circumstances earn more than was earned in the
past, namely during the past twenty years, for instance. Not
even in the case of cleverness - especially not then. One of
the drawbacks of a period like the one which is approaching is
that a time in which the prices are run up so high can be said
to put a lien on the future, which makes the future dark for
You who are as clever as Uncle Vincent, for instance, will not
be able to do what Uncle Vincent did. Why not? - because there
are too many Arnolds and Tripps in the world. Insatiable
money-wolves, compared to whom you are but a sheep. Please do
not take my making this comparison as an insult, brother, it is
better to be a sheep than a wolf, better to be slain than to
slay - better to be Abel than Cain. And, and - I hope, or
rather I am sure, that I am not a wolf either.
Suppose that it's not just in our imagination, but that you
and I are really like sheep among our fellow creatures. All
right - granting the existence of rather hungry and false
wolves, it would not be impossible that we should be devoured
someday. Well, this may not be so very pleasant, but I tell
myself: It is, after all, better to be ruined than to do the
ruining. I mean, there is no reason to lose one's serenity if
one should realize that one might have to lead a life of
poverty, even if one possesses all the qualities, the
knowledge, the capacities, which make other people rich. I am
not indifferent to money, but I do not understand the wolves.
Well, with a warm handshake,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
If you like, give me an answer to some of these questions
while I am here at home; I am here to get some rest and to
arrive at some decision.
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 5 December 1883 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 344.
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